A flying and ever-attacking Roglic denied those hoping for a reduced bunch sprint. After what seemed his fifth dig off the front, the Slovenian finally got away in the closing couple of kilometres and held on to the line.
Behind, Matthews sprinted to second, with Visconti re-finding his form from a few years ago to get up for 3rd.
The 2 second margin Roglic gained at the line sees him move up to 2nd on GC, but that will no doubt change after tomorrow’s Queen Stage. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.
A short but very intense stage!
With 6 climbs in only 138km, it’s sure to be a lively affair.
However, we have almost 40km of flat to start the day off with, and I expect the fight to get into the break to be quite tough. Then again, the first attempt of the day might go!
The first climb of the day comes too far from home to be of any danger, but from our first passage of Ixua, then the race could well be on. Officially the climb is 6.2km long at 7.02%, but as you can see on the profile from the guys at Lasterketa Burua, the final 3.8km of the climb averages 9.7%. Tough!
From thereon, the rest of the stage is either climbing, descending or short valley roads.
The Cat-3 climb isn’t that tough, but the second passage of Ixua crests at only 32km to go. We then have a fast descent before the penultimate climb of the day.
Only a Cat-3 and with a steady gradient, it shouldn’t be too tough for the peloton. However, that all depends on how the peloton approaches the preceding ascent of Ixua. If they tackle it as fast as I expect, then a few riders might even get dropped here. Or we’ll only be left with the best climbing talents in the peloton.
Another quick descent follows before a slow drag in the valley road and through Eibar itself before the final climb of the day.
4.7km at 9.3% or 3.8km at 10.5%; take your pick, either way it’s not easy!
A couple of kilometres of false flat at the top will give those dropped a chance to regroup if a rider ahead implodes. However, that seems unlikely and we have a very short drop down to the finish line.
How will the stage pan out?
Normally, I’d be all over a break on a stage like this. No bonus seconds on the line certainly increases the breakaway’s chance of surviving as it doesn’t matter if the leading GC contender to cross the line is 1st or 7th. All that matters is the gap to the other challengers. We saw that last year when Rosa won from the break (crazy long-range attack) on the stage that is very similar to this one, there was still GC movement behind.
A break is what I had in mind for this stage when I first looked at the profiles but, that’s now changed!
My reasoning behind it is mainly due to the stage being around 20km shorter than I had originally thought. At only 140km with 6 categorised climbs, that’s a lot of climbing in a short space of time. Particularly when you consider that the first 30km are flat!
With so many riders still in contention, and some good TTers to boot, the better climbers in the race won’t want to give everyone an easy ride.
I’m looking at Movistar to light the race up.
Valverde is a competent TTer (especially in Spain), but he’ll still be wary of those around him! The finish climb looks great for him and the short steep ramps will suit him down to the ground. Considering how well he was climbing in Catalunya, he will be confident of dropping everyone, even Contador.
Getting rid of domestiques of the other GC favourites will also be of interest to Movistar. Along with Sky, they have the best climbing squad with them. Both teams should be able to turn the pace on and churn out some of the opposition riders. I would expect this to happen on the second passage of Ixua. From there, it will be a race of attrition and an explosive finale up the final climb.
I think I’ve made it fairly clear above that Valverde is my favourite for the stage! He was unreal in Catalunya and I can’t see that being any different here.
Contador will more than likely be one of his biggest challengers, although he might be suffering after his two crashes from today. Nonetheless, he’s one of the toughest riders around and will no doubt bounce back and give it his all.
Henao offers Sky their best opportunity on this type of finish. The Colombian is exceptional on relatively short, but steep climbs and he’ll be looking to gain some time before the TT. Kwiatkowski is a good second option but the climb looks too steep for him in my opinion.
Yates may finally get some freedom but even though he’s over a minute down, he has been heavily marked so far. That could well change tomorrow if there is a moment’s hesitation in the front group.
Alaphilippe would normally love this type of climb but he’s been terribly unlucky so far this race and will more than likely be on super domestique duties for De La Cruz.
There are a couple of outsiders I’d like to throw into the mix.
Kudus performed spectacularly well on the steep climb of Llucena back in Valenciana in February. He seems to be getting back to top shape after going off the boil for a while. With a poor TT, he will want to attack here and may benefit from being a lesser name. He just needs to attack at the right time for once!
Valverde is not the only Movistar rider who I think might go well here. Ruben Fernandez burst into the general public’s consciousness last year with a great second place on the brutal finish on stage 3 of the Vuelta last year, which resulted in him taking the leader’s jersey. A former Tour de l’Avenir winner, he is an exceptionally classy rider and it is good to see him start to fulfil his potential. After a slow start to the year due to an injury sustained in the offseason, he is my dark horse for this stage!
Crazy stage where it’s full gas from the gun and a race of attrition throughout the rest of the day. Sky and Movistar will set a tough pace, but in the end we all know the outcome, Valverde wins!
Cojones on the line tomorrow;
Valverde 4pts WIN @ 7/2 with Bet365 (would take 3/1)
Fernandez 0.5pt EW @ 33/1 with Bet365 (would take 25/1)
Thanks for reading as always. A bit of a different focus in the preview today, with more of an emphasis on me trying to explain my logic behind how I think the stage will pan out. What do you think will happen? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.